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10 Eye-Opening Books Recommended by Paul Graham — Prepare to Be Blown Away (Like I Was)

Science, history, and fiction

10 Eye-Opening Books Recommended by Paul Graham — Prepare to Be Blown Away (Like I Was)
Photographer: Guy Calaf/Bloomberg via Getty Images

We all owe it to science.

Our world wouldn’t be where it is now if it weren’t for the many discoveries and innovations by scientists.

Paul Graham is a computer scientist, entrepreneur, and author. He was born in England but later on, he also got American citizenship.

Among many other things, today’s book will tell you about Medieval Europe and how the double helix model of DNA was discovered.

Let’s go!

10 Eye-Opening Books Recommended by Paul Graham — Prepare to Be Blown Away (Like I Was)

Dissecting the Covid-19 pandemic.

We all remember the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a time of uncertainty, fear, and mistrust.

It’s unlikely that the people who experienced it will see another pandemic like this in their lifetime.

“Plagues reshape our familiar social order, require us to disperse and live apart, wreck economies, replace trust with fear and suspicion, invite some to blame others for their predicament, embolden liars, and cause grief. But plagues also elicit kindness, cooperation, sacrifice, and ingenuity.”

This book discusses Covid-19 in light of previous pandemics, scientific research, and more.

The author is a physician himself. He starts by discussing the origin of SARS-Cov-2 in Wuhan, China. He compares it to the recent and historic outbreaks like the Spanish flu, bubonic plague, and Ebola.

“What happened in 2020 was not new to our species. It was just new to us.”

Christakis discusses various social, economic, and political aspects. He criticizes the fact that governments suppress vital information.

The fear can lead to otherwise healthy people developing symptoms. This is called ‘epidemic hysteria’.

This book is nostalgic and informative to read.

10 Eye-Opening Books Recommended by Paul Graham — Prepare to Be Blown Away (Like I Was)

Create entrepreneurs, not employees.

Eric Ries is an entrepreneur and blogger.

He is the mind behind ‘the lean startup’ methodology. This methodology proposes shortening the product development cycle by focusing on customer feedback.

This book draws on the foundations of the lean startup model and encourages companies to be innovative in modern times.

“Ultimately, the goal of the Startup Way is to enable the entire organization to function as a portfolio of startups.”

The author tells us about the shortening of time required for technology adoption.

For example, it took people much more time to adopt telephones and TVs. On the contrary, the time taken for the general population to adapt to computers and cell phones has been vastly reduced.

And in this ever-changing environment, businesses need to change their leadership and growth models.

The author says that a traditional company is focused on steady growth. Due to bureaucracy, innovation also suffers.

A modern company takes advantage of its members’ entrepreneurial talent. There is space for experimentation. It tolerates failure and allows new ideas to grow.

10 Eye-Opening Books Recommended by Paul Graham — Prepare to Be Blown Away (Like I Was)

Story of a knight who was insane.

This is a Spanish novel from the early 17th century.

Old books make me wonder about the humans of that time. And as their words tell us, they weren’t any different than us.

“The truth may be stretched thin, but it never breaks, and it always surfaces above lies, as oil floats on water.”

The story is about a man named Alonso Quijano who lives in Spain. Quijano is a reader of chivalric romances. He goes insane and decides to become a knight errant.

He also renames himself Don Quixote.

“Virtue is persecuted by the wicked more than it is loved by the good.”

After his first string of adventures, his library is sealed up. But this doesn’t stop Quixote.

Using the help of a poor laborer, he sneaks away and goes for adventure once again.

Part 2 of the book goes on to detail further adventures of the protagonist.

Although now published together, part 2 originally came 10 years after part 1.

If you remember reading the stories of knights and their adventures as a kid, perhaps it is time for some nostalgia.

10 Eye-Opening Books Recommended by Paul Graham — Prepare to Be Blown Away (Like I Was)

Will the moon free itself from the earth?

This is a science fiction novel from 1966.

It is set in 2075. There are human societies on both the moon and Earth. The moon is used as a colony for ex-prisoners and those in exile.

It is called ‘Luna’.

“Anything which is physically possible can always be made financially possible; money is a bugaboo of small minds.”

There is a supercomputer on Luna that oversees everything. It gains awareness and starts pranking humans.

The computer is named ‘Mike’ by a computer technician. Mike helps the inhabitants in their struggle for independence.

“In terms of morals there is no such thing as ‘state.’ Just men. Individuals. Each responsible for his own acts.”

There are impersonations, conspiracies, and political issues. And like any struggle for independence, the opinions are divided and blood is shed.

10 Eye-Opening Books Recommended by Paul Graham — Prepare to Be Blown Away (Like I Was)

When one falls for Math.

This book shows that G. H. Hardy was deeply in love with Math. He likens it to art and painting.

Hardy isn’t the one to argue that Math is important because of its practical implementations. In fact, he calls that ‘trivial’ math.

“A mathematical proof should resemble a simple and clear-cut constellation, not a scattered cluster in the Milky Way.”

On the other hand, the part of math that isn’t useful practically but offers intellectual stimulation is called ‘real’ math.

“Real mathematics has no effects on war. ”

Hardy complains of his declining mathematical abilities with age. He says that math is a young man’s game and those interested should work on their capabilities when young.

Well, there goes my chances of being a world-famous mathematician.

“Good work is not done by ‘humble’ men.”

Hardy tells us about the importance of being confident in our work and not to question its importance and validity.

The author’s reflections intertwined with his love of math paint a portrait of a man who is against violence and appreciates cerebral adventures.

10 Eye-Opening Books Recommended by Paul Graham — Prepare to Be Blown Away (Like I Was)

Let’s travel to the past.

R.H.C. Davis is a historian specializing in European Medieval studies.

From Contastine to the 13th century, this book covers it all. The author tells us about the decline of Rome in the Dark Ages.

From there to the rise of capitalism and towns, the book goes through many twists and turns.

Davis spends a significant amount of time on the clash between Church and State. The author also discusses the Crusades and the rise of the Papacy.

“It is often hard for an irreligious age to recognize that religion has in fact been capable of dividing men as effectually as political doctrine or economic status, but unless the fact is recognized the history of the Middle Ages will remain a meaningless labyrinth”

Since its publication in 1957, this book has been widely read and is regarded as one of the classics. It’s an important contribution to the history genre.

It is also a recommended read in many schools and university courses.

10 Eye-Opening Books Recommended by Paul Graham — Prepare to Be Blown Away (Like I Was)

A discovery that revolutionized biology.

If you remember a bit of high school biology, you’ll remember the Watson and Crick double helix model of DNA.

Here is one of the scientists from the duo sharing the story of this world-changing discovery.

“One could not be a successful scientist without realizing that, in contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid.”

Watson tells us how he went to England to study crystallography and met Francis Crick. The two became fast friends.

Both were interested in DNA. Their initial DNA model was a failure. It suggested a three-strand helix model.

After continuing to follow the research on DNA, they decided to give the DNA structure another shot. Watson got to look at a secret X-ray diffraction image of DNA which showed that DNA had a helical structure.

They set to work again and solved the problems with their first model. Their new model had two strands connected with the help of 4 bases.

When shown to their peers, the model was readily accepted.

10 Eye-Opening Books Recommended by Paul Graham — Prepare to Be Blown Away (Like I Was)

Explaining the end of World War 2.

The author is a historian with extensive work on World War 2.

This book explores the reasons for the triumph of the allied nations. These included the US, the UK, and France.

“The Allies won the Second World War because they turned their economic strength into effective fighting power, and turned the moral energies of their people into an effective will to win.”

The author discusses not only the military techniques but also the economic and psychological forces behind the victory.

America’s economic strength allowed it to provide for its soldiers.

Despite being bigger and economically stronger the members of allied nations had lost wars previously for example in Algeria and Vietnam. In those cases, the war was for the sake of the forces.

But in the case of World War 2, the soldiers saw Hitler’s ideology as a threat to their communities and families. This granted them additional vigor.

This book is a good analysis of the outcome of World War 2.

10 Eye-Opening Books Recommended by Paul Graham — Prepare to Be Blown Away (Like I Was)

From a humble printer to the Founding Father!

America was a British colony.

It wasn’t until 1776 that the Declaration of Independence was made and adopted. It all happened under the Founding Fathers.

One of the Founding Fathers was Benjamin Franklin. This book tells us his story.

“Fish and guests stink after three days.”

As a young teen, Franklin was a printer and a writer.

Eventually, he launched his own business and ran a newspaper. After retiring at 42, he dwelled in science.

“History is a tale, Franklin came to believe, not of immutable forces but of human endeavors.”

But Franklin wasn’t done yet. Next, he became a part of the political landscape.

He rose to prominence and campaigned against the Tax Act implemented by the British on the colonies.

We learn of his role in the Independence of America. He was pivotal in shifting the opinion of people. He also helped draft the Declaration of Independence and established the first American embassy, in France.

“Those who met with greater economic success in life were responsible to help those in genuine need; but those who from lack of virtue failed to pull their own weight could expect no help from society.”

We also learn of his rather tumultuous family life. He had a strained relationship with his kids.

The author calls Benjamin Franklin a leader who possessed democratic values and a knack for negotiations.

10 Eye-Opening Books Recommended by Paul Graham — Prepare to Be Blown Away (Like I Was)

The story of the man who taught us how matter and light interact.

There are many biographies of the great physicist Richard Feynman. But this one is unique.

It dwells in his work far more than others. If you have a knack for physics, you’ll love it.

If you are not into physics, you’ll enjoy learning about the personality and approach of a genius.

The authors tell us about Feynman’s childhood and how his father’s focus on his scientific education polished his mind.

“Physics just flowed out of him continuously.”

We get to know about his time as a professor at both Cornell and Caltech universities.

He had a knack for teaching. He reduced complex concepts into understandable terminologies. To me, that is an important quality of a good teacher.

This book will acquaint you with Richard Feynman’s life, work, and more.


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If you enjoyed these book recommendations, check out the rest of my book lists on my blog-

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